Tougher job market for new entrants

The office crowd at Raffles Place.
The office crowd at Raffles Place.PHOTO: ST FILE

Unemployment rising for younger workers; firms wary about hiring in slowing economy

Actuarial science graduate Michelle Lew has sent her resume to more than 100 firms since last December, hoping to land a permanent job.

But almost a year later, she has not received a single job offer.

"I think it's because the economy is bad. I'm not sure why. I'm working in an insurance firm as a temp and I have done two short-term internships in small firms," said the 21-year-old, who received her bachelor's degree in actuarial science from Australia.

The job market has not been kind to new entrants to the market like Ms Lew, with unemployment rising for the younger group of workers.

The under-30 unemployment rate rose to 4.3 per cent in September last year, from 3.9 per cent in September 2013, data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed.

In contrast, total unemployment across all ages posted only a marginal increase, from 2.2 per cent to 2.3 per cent over the same period.

Part of the reason for the rise in youth unemployment is simply the slowing economy, which has made bosses more hesitant about hiring.

Of 665 employers surveyed by recruiter ManpowerGroup in September, just 16 per cent forecast an increase in staffing levels in the October to December period, lower than the 19 per cent in the same period last year.

"Since the beginning of the year, companies have been cautious about hiring because of falling oil prices and a slowing economy in China," said Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore.

Advance estimates from the MOM also showed that unemployment for Singaporeans edged up to 3.1 per cent in September.

Just last week, the central bank gave a sobering assessment of the short-term outlook for the economy.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said the economy is facing uncertainty in the short term as the outlook for Singapore's key trading partners remains gloomy.

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira also expects underemployment to rise as the economy slows down, since "companies may hire part-timers or short-term contractors but be unable to justify permanent headcount".

The weaker employment outlook has prompted some young job seekers to burnish their resumes with extra qualifications.

Mr Tseng Shih Ying, 24, a quantitative finance major at the National University of Singapore, hopes to show interviewers more than just a graduation certificate.

"I'm going to take my CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) level one. I didn't get an offer from my last internship, so I feel that I need to boost my resume," said Mr Tseng.

Ms Jan Richards, president of CFA Society Singapore, has noted a "marked increase" in student enrolments for the level one exam.

This year, 31 per cent of level one candidates are students, up from 24.5 per cent last year, she said.

To be sure, about nine in 10 fresh graduates found jobs within six months of graduating last year, according to the Education Ministry's survey of graduates here.

But some of that job-matching also comes from students lowering their expectations, settling for firms and job functions outside their first choice, students said.

Mr Ong Chuon Yan, 25, a human resources major at the Singapore Management University, sent out job applications more than six months before graduation.

He said: "It's quite stressful because it's already very competitive and, on top of that, there may be a decision made not to hire anyone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Tougher job market for new entrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe